Lil Jon's "Get Low" is Ten Years Old This Week, Go Grind on Someone You Love
In the last ten years anyone that has gone to an event that involves music, dancing or fun has “Get Low.” It originally showed up on Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz’s album Kings of Crunk, but wasn't officially released as a single till early 2003, and didn’t hit the Hip-Hop/Rap Billboard charts till the late March and the Hot 100 chart until May. This slow-burning chart trajectory ultimately helped the track, however, because by missing out on the cold weather months, the song was given the opportunity to become the perfect summer anthem as it climbed up the Billboard charts.
Lil Jon had been making music for years before “Get Low”; he used to A&R and produce for So So Def Records, which is why his name is all over So So Def Bass All Stars Vol. 1. In the early 2000s he had some minor hits (“Bia Bia” and “I Don’t Give a Fuck”), mainly call-and-response type party songs in the tradition of the 2 Live Crew. Those tracks set the template for “Get Low,” a collaboration between Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz and the Ying Yang Twins, which just so happened to be the track that brought Lil Jon to the forefront of pop culture. The song opens with the Ying Yang Twins imitating track’s bass line, but after the Ying Yang Twins finish fucking around, Lil Jon smashes the track yelling “Let me see you get low/You scared/You Scared/You Scared.” He was brash, disrespectful and signaling a new wave of rap music.
2003 was a transitional year for mainstream rap. New York was getting ready to pack its bags up for a near decade of cultural irrelevancy and the West Coast wasn't exactly lighting up the charts either, allowing room for the third coast of the South—more specifically Atlanta—to flourish. T.I. crossed over with “Rubberband Man,” Ludacris had his biggest his career up this point with “Stand Up” and Outkast released a pair of number-one songs with “Hey Ya” and “The Way You Move.” It seemed that every new rapper with a hit song was from Atlanta.
And Lil Jon made one hell of a first impression with the video for “Get Low.” Featuring stripper poles, gold teeth, pimp cups and overflowing dreads, the video for “Get Low” presented to the world with the character of "Lil Jon," one in lockstep with his rapping style, which was essentially that of a drunk guy yelling at an off-duty cop. Immortalized in the Chappelle’s Show sketch where Dave Chappelle played Lil Jon talking to IRL Lil Jon; his adlibs of “Whaaaaat”, “Okaaaaay” and “Yeeeaaah” grew to even outshine the rapper that invented them. Today it’s hard to be a successful rapper without a stable of your own adlibs, and Lil Jon helped set the template for that.
He pushed forward a rap aesthetic that ignored all traditional lyricism—a strategy that received plenty of pushback from both critics and the rap establishment at large—but as the Chappelle’s Show sketched highlighted, it was just an act. Lil Jon wasn’t just a drunk partier incapable of talking without shouting; he was a pop wizard and former DJ with an unmatched ability to put his finger on the pulse on popular music, which is why he remained relevant in pop music for well over a decade, a rare accomplishment for any rapper.
The basic formula of “Get Low”—trancey synths, augmented by an avalanche of adlibs and yelling—worked gangbusters for Lil Jon till about 2007. But in those five years, he was responsible for establishing the careers of the Ying Yang Twins (“Saltshaker”), Lil Scrappy (“No Problems”), and Pitbull (“Culo”), along with plenty of others. Outside of rap, he gave Ciara one of the biggest hits of her career “Goodies” and causally created one of the biggest pop singles of the 2000s with Usher’s “Yeah.” Lil Jon even pushed Bay Area hip-hop to the rap mainstream with “Tell When To Go” by E-40. Though that might have not been good for the actual music community of the city, Lil Jon was enough of a musical force in 2006 that he was able to get people to care about a city that had been previously ignored by the rap world. Though Jon’s last mainstream hit as a producer was “I Know You Want Me” by Pitbull in 2009; his influence is felt still.
The recent mixture of Pop and EDM is obviously influenced by cheesey Euro House, but the popular narrative that Pop-EDM begins at David Guetta and Deadmau5 ignores the fact that Lil Jon was using the same sounds back in the 2002. This is the reason that Usher’s “Yeah” still sounds contemporary, and why the “Saltshaker” can come on the radio without being considered a throwback. The sonic template of those songs never ceased being relevant even with shifting musical tastes. Besides giving Pitbull some of his earliest hits, LMFAO, one of the biggest pop groups of today, owe much of their success to Lil Jon. Before “Party Rock Anthem” owned the summer of 2011, their biggest hit was “Shots,” featuring none other than Lil Jon introducing the song by saying, “If you’re not drunk ladies and gentlemen, get ready to get fucked up,” a drunken baton pass from one generation of party-starters to another.
Lil Jon can still be found at dance festivals, random reality shows and occasional dance songs. But his music and specifically “Get Low” still owns dance floors. The basic formula of someone yelling dance moves at people and encouraging other people yell back and dance is an established trope that goes well beyond the lifespan of rap music—or most genres of music for that matter. “Get Low” tapped into something that reached beyond being just a 2000s music trend; it crossed musical lines and helped establish the music landscape of the 2000s and 2010s. Skeet skeet, motherfuckers. Aww skeet skeet, god damn.
David Turner has a can of Crunk Juice at the ready just for, y'know, emergencies. He's on Twitter - @dalatudalatu